The Gossiping Gourmet: Provenance a new hit for Cathy Pavlos

I have been a fan of chef Cathy Pavlos since she first opened Lucca in the Quail Hill Shopping Center in 2005, and I have been eagerly awaiting her new restaurant, aptly called Provenance. It is in the Eastbluff Village Center in Newport Beach.

The concept is to use vegetables, lettuces and herbs that are grown in the restaurant's 1,300-square-foot, raised-bed organic garden. The boxes make a lovely background for outdoor dining. The restaurant also features humanely raised meats. The menu changes monthly and utilizes what is currently growing in the garden.

The interior has a contemporary wine-country farmhouse atmosphere. The ceiling is made of raw rough boards, the floor is polished cement, and the bar has lovely dark gray and white tiles. The chairs are white metal with cushions. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors create an indoor-outdoor feel to the room.

Artisanal cheese plates and house-made charcuterie were always featured at Lucca, and I'm pleased to say they are also on the menu at Provenance. My favorite dining companion and I shared the charcuterie platter, which includes a wonderful little jar of potted pork rillettes. They had a sinfully rich fatty and salty flavor and were extra delicious smeared on the crunchy slices of toasted bread.

We also loved the spicy salami and excellent prosciutto but found the duck pate to be a bit too mild compared to the other offerings. Two mustards and lots of pickled vegetables came on the side: carrots, radishes, onions and pickles with some candied walnuts strewn about. It's a great starter and easily feeds two.

Be careful when the bread basket arrives. It is probably different from day to day, but the fat cream biscuits are hard to pass up and are very filling. Wanting to try something from the garden, we chose clipped garden lettuces that included arugula, herbs, French radishes, candied butternut squash bites and white asparagus.

The squash bites were our favorite, but the lettuces are so fresh and vibrant that they may make you wonder why you ever buy the grocery store variations. The only miss here was the white asparagus, which was limp and tasteless. The salad was lightly dressed but could have used a bit more dressing.

Our entrees were also especially good. A rack of four thick New Zealand lamb chops was cooked rare as ordered. Resting beneath the meat was a cilantro pesto sauce that provided the perfect foil for the juicy, flavorful meat. On the side was a unique blood orange leek risotto completing one of the best lamb dishes we have ever tasted.

Braised veal short ribs gave the lamb a run for the money as best dish. I haven't seen veal short ribs on many menus, and these were really good. The short rib pieces were as tender as butter and served in a luscious demi-glace that added lots of flavor. Accompanying the veal were baby Yukon gold potatoes and roasted onions as well as fried basil, fennel and a blood orange gremolata.

We wanted to try the Napa cabbage, as a friend had recommended. The cabbage appears in the "What's in the Garden Now" section of the menu along with seven other very interesting vegetable preparations. This was like no other cabbage I have eaten. It came with bits of bacon, cannellini beans, shallots, chervil, chive-infused oil and Parmesan cheese.

S'mores in a jar consists of a rich creamy dark chocolate budino (pudding), chocolate sauce, chunks of brownie bites, house-made marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs. There was also some mention of butterscotch, but we couldn't taste it.

I think I could have done without the brownie bites because they added too much texture to the delicious pudding. We also had the apple pie in a cast-iron skillet with ice cream, but the apples had been cooked to mush.

Once again, Cathy Pavlos has come up with a real winner!

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Provenance

Where: 2531 Eastbluff Drive, Newport Beach

When:

Mondays through Fridays: lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner 5 to 10 p.m.

Saturday: dinner 5 to 10 p.m.

Sunday: brunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner 5 to 10 p.m.

Prices:

Appetizers: $2.50 to $10

Table Starters $14 to $27.50

Entrées: $16.50 to $46.25

Desserts: $4.50 to $10

Wine:

Bottles: $30 to $228

By the glass: $9 to $20

Corkage fee: $15 for first bottle, $25 for second, two-bottle maximum

Information: (949) 718-0477 or provenanceoc.com

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